The Crime of Heroin Possession
What is heroin?
Heroin is a highly additive depressant, processed from morphine, a naturally occurring substance in the seed pod of certain types of poppies. Heroin can be sniffed/snorted, smoked, or injected, with injection being the most effective method of low-purity heroin abuse. High-purity heroin lends itself to snorting, but may damage nasal passages and takes 10-15 minutes to produce the drug’s rush of euphoria. It is a highly addictive drug and rapid acting. Heroin is typically sold as a white or brownish powder or as a black, sticky substance known as “black tar heroin.” Although pure heroin is available, most street heroin is cut with other drugs or substances like powdered milk, starch, sugar, or quinine. Occasionally street heroin is cut with poisons like strychnine or fentanyl. Street names for heroin include smack, thunder, hell dust, big H, and nose drops. Although illegal and very addictive, heroin use has unfortunately become a very popular and chic drug for many of today’s young people.
Heroin abuse is associated with serious health conditions, including fatal overdose, spontaneous abortion, and—particularly in users who inject the drug—infectious diseases, including HIV/AIDS and hepatitis. Chronic users may develop collapsed veins, infection of the heart lining and valves, abscesses, and liver or kidney disease. Chronic use of heroin leads to physical dependence, a state in which the body has adapted to the presence of the drug. If a dependent user reduces or stops use of the drug abruptly, they may experience severe symptoms of withdrawal.
Heroin production occurs in three primary regions: Afghanistan, Myanmar, and Colombia/Mexico. The Colombia/Mexico producers supply the majority of heroin that makes its way into the United States. The drug is readily available in most large metropolitan areas as well as many suburban and rural markets throughout the United States, with most heroin finding its way into the country by commercial air or overland.
Heroin and the Law
Heroin is classified as a Schedule I illicit substance with no medical utility under the Controlled Substance Act. As a Schedule I drug, heroin possession and/or distribution crimes have severe penalties attached to conviction of these offenses. Typical penalties for heroin, as with all Schedule I drugs under the United States federal system include: (1) First time possession: one year in prison and a $5,000 fine; (2) Second time possession: two years in prison and a $10,000 fine; (3) First time distribution: maximum fifteen years in prison and a $25,000 fine; and (4) Second time distribution: thirty years in prison and a $50,000 fine.
Possession of heroin includes both actual possession, resulting from the drug being present in a person’s physical possession and constructive possession, resulting from a person having control over an area where heroin has been found but where the person may not be in direct physical proximity with the heroin. An example of constructive possession is if you are the owner/inhabitant of a house where heroin or evidence of heroin is found while you are away from the premises, by virtue of the fact that you live in the house and have control and dominion over the property, you can be charged with possession of heroin.
Distribution of heroin and intent to distribute heroin are both treated similarly in their prosecution. To possess or buy heroin intended for sell to another is a felony. The prosecution doesn’t have to prove that a sell actually took place or that money changed hands—they just have to prove that there was an intention to sell the heroin.
Intent to sell heroin can be proven by evidence such as drug packaging (small bundles), weighing scales, cutting agents, people coming to/going from a home at all hours, fortified windows, conversations with police informants, undercover officers, or wiretapped telephone (cell, portable or landline) conversations so long as that evidence is obtained in a legal fashion.
Defending Heroin Possession Charges
Defenses to a heroin possession or heroin distribution charge include evidence that the person accused of the crime did not know what the heroin was and/or did not know that it was an illegal substance or some error made by law enforcement during the arrest, including such acts as illegal search and seizure, illegal surveillance, and entrapment. Any abuse of the Constitutional rights of the accused may be called into question at a trial as a defense for possession or distribution of heroin.